It’s a cloudy, blustery and downright freezing Saturday in March and I am sat in my car at a beachside car park breastfeeding my six-month-old son. It’s one of those classic “Ahh! Why are you crying? You’ve had a nap and milk and are warm and dry, fuck it we’ll try a boob in the mouth” feed. The kind that often evokes the on-again-off-again latch of doom. I have my toddler’s cardigan slung over my shoulder as a makeshift cover-up as I’m in full glare of families out for another-weekend-in-lockdown stroll and feel too vulnerable to deal with the aftermath eye-contact from a dad who’s just accidentally spied my nipple. And, as I am sat there, waiting for my baby to decide if he’s hungry or not, I am feeling a million things. Because I know, right there overlooking the sea, that it’ll likely be the last time I breastfeed him, or in fact, any baby, ever again.
Y’see, long before he was born I’d decided that I would try my best to breastfeed him, but that if it didn’t work for us, there would be no pressure to stick to it. I’d also decided, long before he was born, that my second child – if I was so lucky to be blessed with a second child – would likely be my last.
My first baby – born in 2018 – had taken to breastfeeding well. So well, that he’d often drink until he projectile vomited the entirety of his feed back over my boobs and down my stomach. Yum.
After an initial difficulty in getting him to latch in the 24 hours after he was born, he took to it with absolute gusto. The only problem was – as like many new mums – I struggled with the mental and physical pressure of being the lone baby-feeder at midnight and 1am and 2am and 3am and 4am and, well, you get the picture. At six weeks we’d introduced the magical pre-bedtime bottle of formula in the hope of getting him to sleep longer at night (spoiler: he didn’t), and by 12 weeks he’d been fully weaned off the boob.
At the time it’d felt right, but as time wore on and I was able to gain more distance and perspective on my feeding journey, I felt as though I’d been pressured (by myself, and the forces around me) to make the switch to formula before I’d truly been ready. It had been a major playing card in my game of ‘FUCK, LET’S GET LIFE BACK TO NORMAL’. And I felt like I’d rushed myself out of something that should have perhaps been savoured (or even enjoyed), no matter how full-on it had felt at the time.
With baby number two, I knew I wanted to continue to be flexible and adapt to my needs at any given moment, to chop and change my views and ideas as I needed to. I also knew, that I wanted to appreciate the early baby days – and all the hard yet fleeting joys like night feeds, newborn snuggles and baby-wearing. I would listen to my gut and to what felt right and trust myself a lot more than I had with my first. I bought a tub of formula and a small collection of MAM bottles, whilst also getting myself a Haakaa pump (seriously, so good and cheap) and some fresh new M&S DD+ bralettes to feed in. I wanted to be prepared, yet relaxed, for every scenario.
But the one thing that truly prepared me above all else? The experience of doing it the first time. I gave birth just before the second Covid wave had truly come crashing down, but the hospital maternity wards were heavily understaffed and there was little to no time for midwives to stop and help with things like latches and feeding. I was lucky to be able to attempt to do it on my own, mostly through the good ol’ fiend that is muscle memory. And, by the time we were home (around 36 hours after my c-section – full birth story here), things in the feeding department were already running smoothly – aside from an oversupply that ensured both of us were soaked with breast milk for 72% of the time.
I look back at the early days from my first baby and felt suffocated and overwhelmed for almost every moment of it – the fear of never having proper sleep again felt all-consuming. But this time round, I look back at my fourth trimester and only feel good things. Nothing felt as hard – night feeds included.
I slept (along with the Snuzpod) in the spare bedroom, geared up with a TV, a pack of nappies, and a bundle of wipes. Every evening after toddler bedtime I’d prepare myself a pint of squash and a bottle of water and a selection of snacks (bananas, nuts and biscuits were my go-tos) and I’d spend the next 12 hours drifting between sleep and feeding the baby whilst watching Grey’s Anatomy. I managed to re-watch 15 seasons of it over a four-month period – and yes, that’s over 300 episodes, before I had to move on to the likes of Emily In Paris, Bridgerton, Firefly Lane and The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. I felt in control instead of flailing, somehow empowered, and hugely comforted. The nights felt no-where near as daunting as they had before and I didn’t dread them – instead, I somehow found a way to embrace them.
Lockdown definitely had an impact on breastfeeding too – it helped me get to grips with it quicker and allowed me the time, space and comfort to do it without getting flustered and nervy in public places. But it also meant that I rarely left my baby, even for an hour or two, and so – unlike my eldest son – he refused bottles from anyone else. With the easing of restrictions on the horizon, I knew that I had to help him trust other people to feed him because I wanted to reclaim some kind of freedom after a long, hard stint of staying home. So at three months old, I started the slowest wean off the boob known to the world. I dropped a feed once a fortnight or so, so that over the following three months he went from entirely breastfed to entirely formula.
And that last car park breastfeed (he’s had a lot of car park breastfeeds – usually at supermarkets or McDonald’s because it’s the only place a girl can get a drive-thru coffee near me), came just two days shy of his six-month birthday.
The one thing I have found entirely different about these first handful of post-breastfeeding weeks, is how much I’ve noticed my fluctuating hormones. I feel emotional and unsteady and I wasn’t prepared for that. I’ve also felt plenty of womb cramps, which I can only assume is my body gearing up to bless me with its first period in around 16 months, which I can assure you I’m not overly excited about – I’ve kept all my Tena pants on hand to guide me through it. My appetite has shifted back to a recognisable state rather than the if-I-don’t-inhale-a-family-size-bar-of-chocolate-every-evening-I-will-wilt-and-die state that I’d been surviving in since last autumn.
I feel incredibly lucky to have had the baby feeding journey that I mapped out in my head beforehand, actually come to fruition. And I hope that in one year/five years/twenty years, I will look back on this time with glorious happy memories, despite the shit storm that raged on outside.